BWW Review: The Kansas City Premiere of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE Opens in Overland Park at Johnson County Arts And Heritage Center
If your washer and dryer sing to you it may be a bad reaction to medication or you may be at the wonderfully humorous and thought-provoking musical production of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, which opened Saturday night November 9 at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center in Overland Park. The Spinning Tree Theatres Kansas City premiere, with book and lyrics by Tony Kushner and music by Jeanine Tesori, runs through November 24. Spinning Tree Artistic Director Michael Grayman-Parkhurst directs this musical incorporating blues, Motown, Jewish melodies, and folk music.
CAROLINE, OR CHANGE ran both Off-Broadway and on Broadway and in London. First workshopped in May of 1992 at New York's Off-Broadway Public Theater, it opened at the theater in November of 2003, running for two months. It ran on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre for 136 performances from May to August of 2004. In London, it opened at The National Theatre running from October 2006 to January 2007. In 2004 CAROLINE, OR CHANGE was nominated for six Tony Awards winning Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. The same year it was nominated for six Drama Desk Awards winning for Outstanding Musical.
Set in a critical time of America's momentous social upheaval the musical score sets a spellbinding stage for Kushner's stimulating story. It is the provocative story of Caroline, an African American maid working in the basement of the Gellman house and the relationship between her and 8-year-old Noah Gellman. Unable to give Caroline a raise Noah's mom tells her she can keep all the change she finds in Noah's pockets. Even though her own children need the essentials, food, clothing, and shoes Caroline refuses at first to take the money of a child.
Later she relents deciding the amount of pay she receives from the Gellman's isn't enough for the service she provides. Turmoil arises when Noah accidentally leaves a $20 bill, he received as a gift, in his pants and Caroline refuses to give it back to him. What arises is a clash between the white-privileged, society's classes, and racial turmoil.
Generally, in my reviews, I am able to pick out entertainers that give performances a cut above the rest of the cast. That is impossible to do with CAROLINE, OR CHANGE as every actor gives an exceptional performance (including the washer and dryer). Whether it is Illeana Kirven as Caroline, Jennifer Mays as Rose Stopnick Gellman, Keshana Cook as Dotty Moffett, Robert J. Hingula as Stuart Gellman, or any of the remaining cast members they all perform at the highest level. Their beautiful voices, dynamic energy, and depiction of characters set the bar higher each time they take the stage.
If you are familiar with CAROLINE, OR CHANGE than you need to see this fabulous premiere. If you are not familiar you need to see it to understand my references to the washer and dryer (you will be pleasantly amused). Whichever the case this is a show you don't want to miss. CAROLINE OR CHANGE runs through November 24. To purchase tickets online go to www.spinningtreetheatre.com.
Photo by Khalif Gillett courtesy of Spinning Tree Theatre